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Soviet Union


The Bolshevik organization began as a tightly knit group of revolutionaries whose leadership was dominated by members of the Russian, Jewish, and Polish intelligentsia but whose mass base consisted mainly of industrial workers from Russia's largest cities. By the late 1980s, for the most part the social characteristics of the party membership reflected the social and economic changes the Soviet Union had undergone over the more than seventy years of its existence. Consequently, professionals made up a percentage of party membership that exceeded their percentage of the population, and the number of party members with a secondary or higher education has constantly risen since the mid-1930s. Similarly, the party has recruited its members from all nationalities. As a result, the gap between the ethnic groups that dominated the party and other ethnic groups in the early years has narrowed. However, this gap has not disappeared completely. By contrast, the percentage of women in the party has continued to lag behind the percentage of women in the population. Altogether, the social characteristics of party members confirmed their status as an elite in the society. The social composition of the party reflected the decision made by Stalin in the 1930s and reaffirmed since that time both to make professional achievement and merit the primary criteria for admission into the party and to strive for the proportional representation of all groups within the party's ranks.

In 1987 the CPSU numbered more than 19 million members (see table 23, Appendix A). Party members constituted about 9.7 percent of the adult population. This figure represented an increase of 4 percent since 1956. Most of that increase, however, reflected the CPSU's rapid growth between 1956 and 1964 under the leadership of Khrushchev. Since 1971 the share of party membership in the adult population has risen only 0.3 percent.

In general, party members possessed a high occupational status in society, which belied the party's claims to be the vanguard of the working class. The party did not publish statistics on the social status of its membership. Nevertheless, the CPSU did publish statistics on its membership's "social position," which denoted the class affiliation of members at the time they joined the CPSU. Workers and peasants who joined the party often used their membership to advance into white-collar positions. Were statistics available on the social status of party members, they would reveal the disproportional representation of white-collar professionals in party ranks. Available figures on the social position of party members, however, also indicated the importance of professionals in the party (see table 24, Appendix A). In 1987 persons who were members of the white-collar professions when they joined the CPSU made up 43.1 percent of the party, while those who were members of the working class made up 45.3 percent and those who were peasants made up 11.6 percent. By contrast, in 1987 Soviet sources reported that 27.8 percent of the working population consisted of white- collar professionals, 62.7 were workers, and 9.5 percent were peasants. The high percentage of members who were professionals when they joined the party, together with the accelerated advancement into white-collar positions by members who were workers or peasants, suggested that the CPSU was not a proletarian party but rather one dominated by white-collar professionals.

Statistics on the percentage of party members with higher education replicated this pattern (see table 25, Appendix A). Between 1967 and 1987, the percentage of party members who had completed higher education almost doubled. In 1987 over 32 percent of the party membership had received a degree from an institution of higher education. By contrast, in that same year only 7.3 percent of the general population had received a similar degree. Again, the figures indicate that the CPSU was less the party of the working class than the party of the white-collar intelligentsia.

The ethnic composition of the party reflected further disproportions between the party and the population as a whole (see table 26, Appendix A). In 1922 the share of Russian members in the party exceeded their proportion of the population by 19 percent. Since that time, the gap between Russians and other nationalities has narrowed. In 1979 Russians constituted 52 percent of the Soviet population; however, they constituted 60 percent of the party in 1981. Moreover, the percentage of Russians in the party apparatus was probably even greater than their percentage in the party as a whole.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, other major nationalities whose share of party membership exceeded their proportion of the population were the Belorussians, the Georgians, and the Jews (the percentage of Jews in the party was twice their percentage in the Soviet population as a whole). The proportion of Ukrainians and Armenians in the party equaled their share of the Soviet population. Armenians and Jews shared certain characteristics that help explain their relatively high proportion of party membership. Members of these nationalities tended to be more urbanized, educated, and geographically mobile than the norm. These characteristics correlated strongly with party membership. The Georgians, although not as urbanized as the Armenians or the Jews, tended to be highly educated. Other reasons explained the relatively high percentage of party membership among the Belorussians and Ukrainians. These two East Slavic nationalities are culturally close to the Russians. In addition, the central party apparatus has sought to demonstrate that political opportunities for Belorussians and Ukrainians equal those for Russians.

Those major nationalities having the lowest proportion of party members compared with their share of the population were the Tadzhiks, Uzbeks, Kirgiz, and Turkmens of Central Asia, and the Moldavians. The Central Asians resisted membership in an organization they perceived to be dominated by East Slavs in general and Russians in particular. Similar considerations applied to the Moldavians, whose territory the Soviet Union seized from Romania in World War II (see Other Major Nationalities , ch. 4).

The percentage of women in the party lagged far behind the proportion of women in the population (see table 27, Appendix A). In 1987 women comprised 29.3 percent of the party and 53 percent of the population. Several reasons explained women's lack of interest in joining the party. First, party work required a substantial commitment of time from each member (see Selection Procedures , this ch.). Approximately 80 percent of Soviet women held jobs and, in addition, spent long hours caring for children, shopping, and running households. Second, Muslim peoples, who constituted a high percentage of the Soviet population, discouraged female participation in politics. Third, Soviet women might not enter the CPSU because they perceived that the social mores of that organization restricted their ability to move up the hierarchy into positions of power. The 307 members elected to the CPSU Central Committee at the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress in 1986 included only 13 women. In the 1980s, women made up only about 33 percent of PPO secretaries, 20 percent of district party organization secretaries, and 3.2 percent of obkom bureau members. No woman has been a full member of the Politburo. Thus, the higher the level in the party hierarchy, the lower the percentage of women.

In his report to the CPSU Central Committee on January 27, 1987, General Secretary Gorbachev called for the promotion of more women and representatives of national minorities and ethnic groups into leading positions in the party. That policy, together with the pursuit of other policies that encourage greater urbanization, geographic mobility, and higher education levels, may lead to a greater proportion of women and national minorities in influential party positions. If women and national minorities perceive the opportunity to move up the hierarchy into positions of power, a greater number of these underrepresented groups might be willing to join the party and thus help to balance the sexual and ethnic composition of the CPSU with that of the population as a whole.

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A plethora of works has been written on all aspects of the CPSU. The following general works on the Soviet Union contain chapters on the party: John A. Armstrong's Ideology, Politics, and Government in the Soviet Union, John N. Hazard's The Soviet System of Government, and Frederick C. Barghoorn and Thomas F. Remington's Politics in the USSR. The best general treatment of the CPSU is found in The Soviet Communist Party by Ronald J. Hill and Peter Frank. A number of specialized treatments of various aspects of the party also have been written. Alfred G. Meyer's Leninism remains a classic study of the thought, political program, and tactics of Lenin. Nina Tumarkin's Lenin Lives! examines the Lenin cult in the Soviet Union. George Breslauer's Khrushchev and Brezhnev as Leaders treats attempts by Khrushchev and Brezhnev to build authority in the political system. For thorough analyses of intermediate-level and local-level party organizations, works by Joel C. Moses are helpful. Scholars who have examined the nomenklatura and patron-client relations include John P. Willerton, Jr., Bohdan Harasymiw, and Gyula Jozsza. Michael Voslensky's Nomenklatura provides an insider's account of the ruling class. John H. Miller's "The Communist Party" treats the social characteristics of the CPSU's membership. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of May 1989

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